Sunday, May 5, 2013

Wretched Excess: AP/IB Summer Reading 2013

My personal and professional opinion of assigned summer reading is that it should be a lot like summer romance: short and sweet, and maybe just a little bit torrid. The selected texts were chosen specifically because they meet these criteria, and because I like them.

Please note that students (ie, incoming IB and AP English juniors at Woodrow Wilson) should have both novels read by the start of the fall semester 2013-2014; students should further anticipate that there will be a diagnostic exam based on the material for the purpose of figuring out approximately your skill level and potential needs.

The following books are the "official" summer reading books for both IB and AP Language:

The Great Gatsby is the classic "Lost Generation" novel of post-WWI disillusionment with the American Dream and all its wretched excess. Yes, there is a famous classic movie for this one, but no, I would not bother watching it in spite of its cinematic heritage. This book has gangsters, rum-runners, war-heroes, flappers, golfers, debutantes, Old and New Money... You can only aspire to be as cool as the people in this novel.

Oh, and apparently there's a newer version out, too, in cinemas.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is the second novel by Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid, and it is not the story you anticipate. I will fully admit that I was skeptical upon opening the book, but I was quickly disabused of any concerns--in fact, I couldn't put it down. A political thriller, this novella is a classic story of post-9/11 disillusionment with the American Dream and all its wretched excess. Part-spy-thriller, part-romance, this story will make you think.

Somehow, I missed this in the theaters, but I hope to change this soon.

And, while you are reading, consider the following questions, any of which would make an excellent essay question for the summer reading test on the first week of class (hint, hint):
  1. Both Fitzgerald and Hamid offer a dim view of the archetypal American Dream by the end of their novels. If Gatsby's 'rags to riches' story reflects the idea that any kid from Middle America, no matter how poor, can aspire to wealth while Changez' version reflects the same story from the immigrant's perspective, then what are these authors ultimately saying about the American Dream? Do these authors view it as dead, or do they offer some hope for it? Discuss the state of the American Dream as presented in The Great Gatsby and The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
  2. Over the course of his monologue, Changez delivers more than a few critical appraisals of American life, culture, society, values, and politics. Is it fair to say that these criticisms grow sharper—or cut deeper—as the story progresses? Why or why not? Identify a few such criticisms, explaining why you do or don’t agree with them.
  3. Who is most responsible for Gatsby's death: Tom, Daisy, Myrtle, or Gatsby himself? Using examples from the text, present a case which establishes not only the moral responsibility of the guilty party but exonerates the other characters.

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